Dangers of Aurora, part 1: A dangerous pedestrian environment

Aurora Ave N, one of Seattle’s busiest roadways, is also one of its most dangerous for pedestrians as well as drivers.

Traffic Death Thermometer near Aurora

Traffic Death Thermometer near Aurora in 1940

The Washington State Department of Transportation analyzed three years of collisions along Aurora. The study found that while pedestrians were involved in less than 3% of the total collisions along this roadway, they accounted for more than 30% of the fatalities. Over 70,000 drivers pass along at least part of the eight-mile stretch between the Battery Street Tunnel and 145th St at the Seattle City Limits every day, and significantly fewer people walk on this mostly-car-oriented roadway. Pedestrians therefore represent a disproportionate number of the fatalities that result from collisions on Aurora.

Due to the high speed of traffic along this street, people struck by a vehicle on Aurora are more likely to die than people hit on other roadways. 8 out of 10 pedestrians hit at 40 mph suffer fatal injuries and, according to a 2003 WSDOT study, vehicle speeds along Aurora average around 45 miles per hour.

According to Jim Curtin of SDOT, “We see more fatalities on the south section, where there are higher speeds. Up north pedestrian collisions are more frequent but less severe.”

“The speed limit on Aurora south of Green Lake is 40 mph but speeds in this segment tend to be over 45 mph,” says Curtin.

The fundamental problem with Aurora is the road design. The roadway does not meet modern standards for vehicles, much less pedestrians. For example, sharp curves limit visibility, and narrow lane widths lead to more vehicle accidents. Pedestrians are further endangered by the lack of sidewalks on Aurora north of 110th, where sidewalks exist only in front of recent development.

However, most pedestrians are struck while in an intersection. The intersections at 85th, 90th, and Northgate Way account for 1/4 of all the pedestrian collisions along Aurora. More than half of these collisions occur between 85th and 125th. Many of these accidents are due to “inattentive drivers turning their vehicle” according to the WSDOT study. “I don’t know that people are following the rules of the road and yielding the right of way to pedestrians,” says Curtin.

Also, crosswalks are spaced far apart in some places, and many people attempt to cross Aurora where a crosswalk does not exist. According to Curtin, “a lot of people who have been doing this have problems with drug and alcohol issues. We have seen a number of people get hit near the motels.”

Speed, inattentive drivers, and poor road design make Aurora a dangerous place to walk. In part 2, we’ll talk next about how the Aurora Traffic Safety Project is addressing the issues along this major corridor.


4 Responses to “Dangers of Aurora, part 1: A dangerous pedestrian environment”

  • That SDOT page raises a few questions. Most importantly, why is there a man ia chicken suit in the last photo?

  • SDOT used to have a similar “traffic fatality scoreboard” at Pine & Westlake. When I filled out the pedestrian safety survey, one thing I recommended was bringing such signs back in billboard form. I wonder why the signs ever went away.

  • This photo is also at 4th & Pike & Westlake Ave (now Westlake Park). You can see the old Nordstrom, the current Nordstrom (then Frederick & Nelson), the Mayflower Hotel, and the original Bartell’s. Apparently, Aurora/99 must have gone through Downtown and up Westlake before the building of the Viaduct.

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